Women’s Health in Nicaragua

25 Feb

Centro de MujeresMy friends know I prioritize improving the lives of women in the USA.  But, on a recent trip to Nicaragua I again felt that common bond, and common need for change, with women and friends elsewhere.  YES this post ends with a suggestion to donate.

I sat, along with husband John and new friend Tyra, in a small room of the Acahualt Women’s Center, at first just grateful for the relative cool. Back home in Minnesota, that January day, it was well below freezing – but here in Managua it was, as usual, around 90 degrees. John and I had been here for nine days birding, stupefied at Nicaragua’s natural beauty and well aware of our privilege to enjoy it. Today, I needed to learn a tiny bit about the Nicaragua social justice work supported by my new friends, the Quakers.  I had been an attender at the Twin Cities (Minnesota) Friends Meeting for two years, glad for the quiet meditation time and the caring community. (Photo: me, nurse Silvia Cisneros, friend Tyra)

Thank goodness for AWC nurse Silvia Cisneros, who put together lots of information – good data, lists of services, and “real people” photos – in Powerpoint form so I could get the big picture quickly (once I cooled off). And thank goodness for Ramon Sepulveda, co-director of the ProNica organization, who kindly arranged, shepherded, and translated for me with my poor Spanish.  The Acahualt Women’s Center was built in Managua’s poorest neighborhood, where hundreds of people used to live in, and survive by picking through, the city dump.  Now there’s a big recycling center, which provides jobs for about 20 percent of the people who used to live in the dump – but the other 80 percent remain desperately poor, even with some basic supports provided by the government.  Nicaragua has the lowest per capita GDP of any Central American country – $4,500 per year.  And for women in this area, emotional, physical, and sexual violence are common, even more so for LGBT people and the many who have been trafficked as sex slaves.

In 1992, five women founded the center, identifying a high incidence of cervical cancer, conducting a community diagnosis, and analyzing the findings. They contacted medical doctors and other professionals to look for treatment and develop the program further. Through rigorous research the cancer was linked to life in the heavily polluted dump.  With minimal funds, medical and social services staff began to help with treatment and prevention, and soon were able to provide other life-saving services, also desperately needed: low cost medical care, legal aid, psychological therapy, sexual health education, job training, self help groups and workshops, a community preschool and library, and hopes of completing a shelter for women and children who have survived violence. The center is also home to job training via a beauty school, solely supported by ProNica.

Peace Pole, ManaguaBesides this visit to the center, Ramon introduced us to Quaker House, a lovely small building where 18 visitors (often a delegation there to learn and witness the work) can stay, and a quiet outdoor patio for meetings for worship.  I loved the peace pole with its traditional message in Miskito and Mayan as well as English and Spanish. He also showed us the tiny office building housing ProNica staff – besides himself, co-director Ada Maria Lopez Rivera and bookkeeper Milton.  At all three places, I was struck by the obvious (and probably necessary) commitment to “keeping it simple.” (photo: me, Ramon Sepulveda, Tyra)

In Minnesota, where we pride ourselves on a large “nonprofit community,” I worry sometimes that we have created maybe too much infrastructure. Nonprofit staff seem to be constantly attending webinars and conferences, often far away, with budgets for staff development and protecting boards of directors from legal action, and managers work hard to pay “competitive” salaries.  In Nicaragua, I think ProNica has wisely helped with basic administration and fundraising for multiple groups, but relies on local grassroots efforts – like that at the Women’s Center – to decide what needs to be done and how to do it.  Both ProNica and the Acahualt Women’s Center could certainly use your donation as well as mine, as funds from Spain have declined with the problems of the EU, with little to no support from the Nicaraguan government or groups like the United Nations.  Fewer services are offered right now, and some women’s center staff have had to cut back their hours, taking up additional outside jobs for family survival.  I promise you that small contributions will be used for the greater good, not for anything that might look like a “perk” to us. They give examples of $5 for a potentially life-saving pap smear for one woman, $75 for a tubal ligation, or $450 for a clinic nurse for one month.

How to tell this story, I wondered, as a privileged white person? If you’re like me, you see plenty of sad stories and hear of many great needs.  I can only say I felt that tentative reaching out, heart-to-heart, when Tyra and I (the two of us not sharing a language) sat in the back seat of the pickup together and used broken words and sign language to ask about each other’s kids.  I felt it again when I was all full of delicious lunch and almost considering a nap – but Ada took time to carefully explain the many programs especially for women that ProNica is supporting, including in rural areas, making sure we know there is so much we would not be able to see that day but that needs attention.  And Silvia, especially, who decided to trust that we could handle photos of horrific injuries inflicted on some of the women they see, not usually included in the Powerpoint – and whose love was evident in her computer’s wallpaper photo of her granddaughter, a shining face and big red hair bow that could be Nicaragua’s future.  I am learning from Quakers to listen with my heart as well as my head, and I am deeply grateful for all these smart hard workers who know how to lead both ways.

You can learn more and donate to ProNica, the Acahualt Women’s Center, and/or other ProNica supported programs in Nicaragua, and subscribe to the ProNica newsletter, via this link.  

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Hellooo Quakers! Me and My Quilts

15 Jul

I see I have not posted much here for awhile, and I have just given the address to my new friends at Twin Cities Friends Meeting (and Quakers everywhere) so here’s a mini introduction. Most of my recent cyber-activity has been on UnfinishedBusinessUSA.com, where I present segments (both text and video) from my documentary, Unfinished Business: Future of the American Women’s Movement. Check it out and share your thoughts! Otherwise, I am joyfully retired and loving my other projects: big home garden, serving on boards for the CBC Seniors block nurse program and Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota, volunteering for US Women Connect, wishing I was writing fiction… and making quilts.

I am just now finishing up a quilt called “Dragon DNA” for my daughter. To see the eight other quilts I’ve made, and two historic quilts in the family, see my Shutterfly book: http://www.shutterfly.com/custompath/viewEdit.sfly?fid=b4246464cf482dd23315f89dbf2f35f7   Hm, if that does not work, try this link: https://bonnieartprojects.shutterfly.com/
Top:   The quilt I made for my sister (a longtime Friend, in Ohio), called “Deciduous, with Deviations.”

Happy Morning Spinach Balls

17 Jan

happy morning spinach ballsOh yesss, the blue bathrobe still serves me well.  It is almost two years since my last day at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, and I’m here to tell you I am having a wonderful life.  At end of the first year I started writing an “annual report” just to let the world (small band of those who care) know what I was doing.  This was partly a reflex from many years of writing monthly and annual reports for boards of directors at many previous jobs.  

But, I was doing so much on so many fronts (with a huge dose of “Bonnie self-care,” which previous boards seemed to like hearing about) that it was just too big a job to write it all up.  In my second year of “semi-retirement” I have, if anything, taken on even more projects so even more work to explain it all.  But I was so happy just now, taking the spinach balls out of the oven, maybe I can just share ONE MORNING in my life.  

I slept well, not always the case, but straightened out (for now) after several days of missing sleep debriefing in my head from Capitol meetings and preparation of handouts.  So happy to see the sunshine, blue sky, and sparkling white snow of Minnesota, happy birds at the feeder out the window and notice it’s not QUITE so cold.  Found myself singing in the shower – even though I hate getting wet, it was Time.  The big key to my happy day is that I had no meetings scheduled or deadlines from other people.  I read the paper and took time to do the pretty hard Friday sudoku.  Then high quality time with the mister, who is sick.  THEN resurrected my old spinach balls recipe and made it not entirely vegan (reasons too hard to explain) but more protein and less fat, and it was very good.  After this I hope to work on the crazy quilt AND/OR video editing AND/OR just laze around with a cheesy novel AND/OR get outdoors and a bit of exercise.  I will conclude by posting the recipe, but just know I am learning to appreciate, more mindfully than ever, one heavenly morning.  I wish the same for you.

HAPPY DAY SPINACH BALLS
(You could do other substitutions to make it completely vegan or whatever.  This version substituted 4 ingredients from the original – I just tried to keep the liquids and solids in balance.  This made about 3 dozen.)

1 ten-oz pkg frozen, chopped spinach, drained well
3 egg substitutes:  3T flaxseed meal and 9T water
3/4 stick butter
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1.5 cups crumbs – about 1/3 storebought crumbs, 1/3 corn meal, 1/3 almond meal
1/3 cup plus 1 T nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp thyme
3/4 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp pepper
(I bet some cayenne would not hurt)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In food processor, combine flaxseed meal and water and let sit while you prep all else. Thaw and set the spinach to drain (I didn’t squeeze it dry, just pressed a bit.)  Melt the butter.  Chop the onion.  Then combine all the ingredients (flaxseed mix last.)  Drop in tablespoon-size mounds on cookie sheet.  Round is fine but next time I might flatten them a bit so they would cook more evenly, top as well as bottom.  They can be half-inch apart or even closer, as they don’t rise.  Cook 15 minutes but check towards the end.  Bottoms should be a medium brown.  

John says these taste best warm but I suspect they will be fine cold too. I think they would be extra glorious if served with some hot-pepper almond sauce or other bright sauce, either underneath or drizzled atop.  Probably best not to bill these as “spinach cookies” even though they look like cookies, as they are not sweet.  BUT I am so tempted to sneak a few onto a plate of Christmas cookies.    

Results of Two Pay Equity Laws

2 Dec

The Local Government Pay Equity Act, passed in 1984, applies to 1,200 employers– all cities, counties, and school districts in the state– together employing 220,000 people.  Its purpose: “to eliminate sex-based wage disparities in public employment.” (M.S.471.991-471.999)  It followed the state employees pay equity law of 1982.  

Steps to compliance:

  • Employers must determine skill, effort, responsibility for each job
  • Compare job evaluation ratings with pay & check for gender patterns
  • Pattern of lower pay for female-dominated jobs?  Correct the inequities by providing pay raises.
  • Report once every 3 years: job titles, values assigned, pay rates, any inequities, cost to correct.
  • 96 penalty cases (1.2% of employers) in the past 15 years. $1,267,851 paid in back wages to employees, $210,233 paid to state general fund

Enforcement & assistance: Minnesota Management & Budget Dept.  Visit http://www.beta.mmb.state.mn.us/pay-equity.

Advocacy: Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota & allies.  Womenpayequity.blogspot.com or http://www.mnwomen.org/PECOM.html

Results of two pay equity laws

  • An estimated 40,000 people (8,500+ state employees, 30,000+ local government employees) (90% of them women) have received PE raises.
  • Cost to the employer is consistently 2%-4% of payroll (3.7% for state).
  • Typical PE raise for local government in 2012 was $5,179 ($2.49/hour).
  • In 1980, women who worked for the state earned, on average, 72% of pay for their male counterparts.  In 2012, that figure had risen to 98%.

How’s it going?  In April 2013, Gov. Dayton proclaimed State Employees Pay Equity Day.  PECOM celebrated 30 years of success with the state employees law.  In 2014, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Local Government Pay Equity Act. But “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

AND… Most Minnesota workers (85%) are in the private sector and not covered by the state’s pay equity laws. The “average Minnesota woman” working FTYR now earns 80% of male pay.

More info:  MinnBonnie@gmail.com or Womenpayequity.blogspot.com

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Bonnie’s Families

28 Sep

Bonnie's Families

Cover image for Unfinished Business: Future of the American Women’s Movement

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I am Peace’s Bonnie

17 Jul

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Back in the 1970s, we feminists often introduced ourselves with our mother’s first names, then our own first names, and ditched the patrilineal names. This was especially wonderful for me (despite liking all those Watkinses too) because my mother’s name, Peace, was so cool.  She was born at the end of World War I and her parents, Norman and Mabel MacDonald, were excited about that.  The war to end all wars!

Now that I am writing a book about my feminist life, I think about those female ancestors (on my mother’s side) more than ever.  Two dear women from my previous book, In the Company of Women, expressed that bond with the past so well:

“You know you’ve got this invisible army of women behind you.  Whenever I had to stand up to a man I felt tall and strong because I felt I wasn’t alone.  I could envision all these women saying, ‘Go for it, Rose!’ ”  – Rose Chaltry Minar

“You can’t just ignore what our grandmothers and great grandmothers did… I think they’re still working, they’re still alive…  I believe they are out there, like muses… I know there are women from history who are orchestrating this still.” – Rev. Joy Bussert

Although my book will be future-focused, it is clear to me at every stage that every woman today “stands on the shoulders of giants,” women from the past who worked so hard just to keep children alive and fed, who doubtless dreamed of liberty for their daughters, and many ofwhom fomented rebellion in their own ways.  Therefore I began looking into my own past a bit.  I had a copy of an old black and white photo with my Aunt Janet (beloved big sister of my mom, little Peacie) as the baby in the center, with three generations of her maternal ancestors around her.  But – the old photo, taken around 1910, was badly damaged.  My great friend and television guru Mike Rossberg, who happens also to be a painter, created this oil painting to recapture them.

Then I realized I did not even know the names of the two older women in the photo. Many thanks to my Aunt Dottie on the other side of the family (Dorothy’s Dorothea! or Dorothea Eunice Watkins Clark), who keeps the genealogy, for providing the names shown above.  I hope I have them right now.  Aunt Janet and Grandma MacDonald were powerful, funny, smart women and I was so glad to know them.  The other two I never met, but I know down to my toes that they are a part of me and I owe them a great debt.

Later I will post a photo or two of my own dear Mom, Peace Mabel MacDonald Watkins, with whom I feel an even stronger connection even now, a decade after her death.  I think of her, above all, when I read this poem (excerpt) which Meridel LeSueur sent to the North Vietnamese women.  As you read it, bear in mind that my mom had beautiful ash blonde hair that framed her face like a halo of light, and that she lived much of her adult life on the western prairies – so I tell you, this is her – and all of us.

(from Doan Ket)

I saw the women of the earth coming toward each other…

All shining and alight in solidarity…

Tall and crying out in song we arise

                 In mass meadows.

We will run to the living hills with our seed.

We will redeem all hostages.

We will light the bowl of life…

Uncovering the illumined fruit…

We bring to you our fire…”

And so I am going to try and write a book (and make a television documentary) that helps to bring that fire to everyone, and to free all hostages.  Send me your ancestor stories!

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Press Conference for Presidents on Presidents’ Day 2013

25 Feb

The Minnesota Women’s Consortium brought together 26 organizations on Presidents’ Day to present a joint message and statement to the state legislature. This video features Consortium Executive Director Erin Parrish and Cottage Grove Cty Councilmember Jen Peterson.